One of the best life lessons that we learn early in life is: “treat others how you want to be treated”. This is the mindset that children use when sharing toys, but it’s also the mindset that we use as adults to forge relationships, build connections, and work with others. Sometimes, in the midst of long-standing corporate culture and organizational hierarchies, this lesson gets lost. The loss of this central value to sustainable and thriving culture — respect — can lead to the development of toxic workplace culture.
Toxic work cultures manifest in so many different ways. From personalities and environments to clique-like behavior in small teams and leadership alike, a toxic workplace can have significant effects on physical, mental, and emotional health; job performance; and overall happiness as an employee. Culture is like air — it’s everywhere around us and it can become polluted based on our actions and outputs. It’s on us to take responsibility for our actions and prevent the development of toxic workplace culture.
Here are three ways to do that:
- Create an environment where people feel welcome, safe, and can be vulnerable. The environment in which culture thrives has a significant effect on how it is shaped. As a leader, create an atmosphere where your employees may openly and honestly share their thoughts without the fear of retaliation or dismissal. As an employee, find opportunities to get involved in the cultural development space of your organization. If there aren’t any — connect with your manager, supervisor, or HR department about this! Feel empowered to be a culture change agent.
- Demonstrate accountability. One red flag and indicator of a toxic workplace culture is hearing the phrase “we’ve always done it this way, so why change it now”. The use of this phrase shows that the organization may value consistency but dismisses the possibility of improving, evolving, and changing. Changing the way that things have always been done is an example of accountability. By embodying the mission, vision, and core values of your organization, you will be able to energize your employees and empower your culture.
- Establish feedback mechanisms. Feedback loops ensure that your employees’ voices are heard, respected, and valued. These mechanisms also enable them to shape your organization’s evolving culture. Culture design may be influenced by leadership teams, but it is important to consider the experiences and interests of employees and teams to ensure that you are building an inclusive culture.
Creating an environment for culture to thrive, demonstrating accountability, and establishing feedback loops can help transform toxicity into productivity. This evolution enables organizations to embrace change in a more robust and sustainable way and prepares them for the organizational culture journey that lies ahead.